The constitution of the Goa khazan land development board is likely to drive the last nail in the coffin of age-old comunidades, already drifting towards extinction due to loss of its lands and functions, fear activists.
"The formation of the board appears to be for the purpose of grabbing not only comunidade land but also water-logged land owned by others along river banks," says association of components of comunidades secretary Andre Pereira.
The association is fighting to save the institution of comunidades.
Evolved on the concept of sharing of land by communities much before the advent of the Portuguese, the state once boasted 223 comunidades.
Gradual loss of land for public utility projects and encroachments has seen the number dwindle to 123 bodies across the state. "The activities of comunidades have come to a halt and there is no zono or dividend for members as no revenue is generated," Pereira said.
The community-based sharing of land is the highest form of land ownership, says Abhijit Prabhudesai of Goenchea Xetkareancho Ekvott. "It is fulfilling and gives one a sense of freedom when they walk on the bunds in khazan lands," he said.
Stakeholders foresee radical changes in the institutional setup of comunidades, which they say even the Portuguese acknowledged and provided space to function. "The acquisition of community owned lands and replacement of the age-old structure is in violation of this hoary principle and will take away the sense of security enjoyed by Goan communities in the past," Prabhudesai said.
Comunidade leaders have raised apprehensions about the fate of comunidades after the bill is enacted. "The government should think of ways to utilize khazan lands to productive use," Calapor comunidade attorney Mariano Araujo said.
As per Articles 5 and 648 of code of comunidades, the state is under statutory obligation to provide guardianship and to restore the centuries-old comunidade system.
The involvement of the political class, bureaucrats and non-representation to farmers or comunidade members spells doom for comunidades. "They will only remain on paper, but comunidades will lose control over their lands as agricultural land was the last parcel of land they possessed," Pereira said.
Prabhudesai said a decision affecting the lives and livelihoods of thousands of Goans should have been discussed through a participative process. "It was a system which had proved to be successful for thousands of years, except for the recent collapse after liberation," Prabhudesai said.
The draft of the board act should have been circulated to gram sabhas, tenants associations and comunidade bodies, feel activists. "They are the custodians of the local land and it should have been put up for discussion at their level," council for social justice and peace (CSJP) executive secretary Fr Savio Fernandes said.
A water resources department official allayed apprehensions raised by stakeholders, stating that the draft act has been kept for suggestions from the public. "It is yet to be approved by the cabinet and introduced in the assembly as a legislation," the official said.
Justifying the setting up of a body dedicated to the restoration and maintenance of dykes, the official said it was a long-felt requirement to protect khazan lands. "Half of the khazan lands in Goa are in a state of submergence and neglect," the official said.
Denying that the act will be adopted fully, the source said, "The government will surely consider the people's views before taking a final decision." [TOI]